Monday, January 21, 2008

Free vs paid -- going different directions

The question of whether newspapers ought to be free or paid is far from settled. In London, The Independent is considering a free edition in a bid to boost circulation and shore up ad revenues, according to the Guardian. The Guardian quotes one expert, Dan Pimm of Universal McCann, as saying, "If they start building up circulation through free, there's a good chance they'll be able to put the rates up. Advertisers are prepared to pay for the free model."

In Manchester, England, the Evening News is reportedly having success by distributing its paper free within central Manchester but charging for it in outlying areas of the city.

On the other side of the pond, the company that owns Philadelphia's Inquirer and Daily News is raising single-copy prices due to rising costs, particularly newsprint. Both papers will cost 75 cent a copy starting Feb. 4. The Inquirer (a traditional broadsheet) now sells for 50 cents and the Daily News (an urban oriented tabloid) for 60 cents. The Sunday Inquirer will cost $1.75, up from $1.50 now. The Daily News doesn't publish on Sundays.

Brian Tierney, the advertising-agency guru who heads the local investor group that bought both papers from Knight Ridder in 2006, is betting that people won't be concerned about the price increase. The free Philadelphia Metro has never made a dent in the circulation or sales of the Inquirer or Daily News.

And BusinessWeek's Jon Fine is encouraging publishers of paid papers to charge more, adding: "Don't worry if your circulation volume drops so long as the circulation revenue, and profits, are rising."

COMMENTARY: The higher the price of paid papers, the more room free papers have to grow.